“Inequality Kills”, the latest report in which not-for-profit Oxfam flags widening disparities in the world, is another of several reports that have off late highlighted the widening gap between the world’s rich and the poor. For India, the stats are similar if not worse.
In India, the number of billionaires rose from 102 to 142, collectively owning a wealth of $719 billion (over Rs 53 lakh crore). Their combined fortunes more than doubled during the Covid-19 pandemic.
In fact, the richest 98 Indians own the same wealth as the bottom 552 million.
The rich continued to become richer with the wealth of India’s richest families reaching a record high in 2021; even as 84 per cent of households saw their incomes declining during the pandemic.
If each of the 10 richest Indian billionaires were to spend $1 million daily, it would take them 84 years to exhaust their current wealth.
That’s not enough. Just an additional one per cent tax on the richest 10 per cent can provide the country with nearly 17.7 lakh extra oxygen cylinders, while a similar wealth tax on the 98 richest billionaire families is capable of financing Ayushman Bharat - the world's largest health insurance scheme - for more than seven years. The wealth of the ten richest is enough to fund school and higher education of children in the country for 25 years.
The report is interestingly timed with the Davos Agenda 2022 by the World Economic Forum slated to begin today.
Jeff Bezos’ fortune can fund the world’s vaccination
The fact that the increase in Jeff Bezos’ fortune alone could pay for everyone on earth to be safely vaccinated isn’t the only interesting fact revealed by the report.
The study also found that the world'sten richest men more than doubled their fortunes from $700 billion to $1.5 trillion — at a rate of $15,000 per second or $1.3 billion a day — during the first two years of the pandemic. While these 10 kept adding to their coffers during the pandemic, 99 per cent of humanity saw a dip in their incomes whereas a staggering 160 million more people were forced into poverty.
The report stated that based on conservative estimates, inequality contributes to the deaths of at least 21,300 people each day which means one person dies every four seconds; hunger kills over 2.1 million people each year at a minimum.
The report also reveals that around 231,000 people are likely to die from the climate crisis in poor countries by 2030.
The widening gender gap
Highlighting gender disparity, the report observes that women have suffered the harshest economic impacts of the pandemic and collectively lost $800 billion in earnings in 2020. While employment for men is recovering more quickly, it is not the case for women. About 13 million fewer women are expected to have been in employment in 2021 as compared to 2019.
In the foreword of the report, Jayati Ghosh, Professor of Economics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, USA, criticises the widening gap and its effects thereof. She remarks, “It’s now essential to change course. We need systemic solutions: reversal of the disastrous privatisations of finance, of knowledge, of public services and utilities, and of the natural commons. We also need accessible fiscal policies like taxation of the wealthy and of multinational corporations. And, we need to undo the structural inequalities of gender, race, ethnicity, and caste that feed into the economic disparities.” Ghosh is also a member of the World Health Organisation’s Council on the Economics of Health For All.
Highlighting the hazards of inequality, Oxfam International’s Executive Director Gabriela Bucher has said, “It has never been so important to start righting the violent wrongs of this obscene inequality by clawing back elites’ power and extreme wealth including through taxation — getting that money back into the real economy and to save lives.”
Oxfam has also urged governments to tackle racist and sexist laws that discriminate against women, invest the money raised by these taxes towards progressive spending on universal healthcare and to end laws that undermine the rights of workers to unionise and strike.